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When Optimism and Realism Collide

A hopelessly romantic optimist, Ron Sexsmith remains unfashionably entrenched in pop's margins.
A hopelessly romantic optimist, Ron Sexsmith remains unfashionably entrenched in pop's margins.

A sweet-voiced pop singer whose accessibility borders on quaintness, Ron Sexsmith nevertheless remains unfashionably entrenched in pop's margins, relegated mostly to a career as a sought-after songwriter. After attracting public praise from virtually every credible rock star in the business — and releasing a string of widely acclaimed albums throughout the '90s — Sexsmith needed the intervention of Keifer Sutherland's vanity label to even get his new Time Being released in the U.S.

It may or may not attract a large audience, but Time Being radiates the warmth and kindness that have become Sexsmith's signatures — particularly on "Never Give Up," which extols the virtue of romantic faith in the face of lost innocence. Amid a softly sparkling acoustic backdrop, he addresses the "foolish dreams" he's cast aside, before reveling in a love that remains unchanged by external factors: "When times are bad, when things go wrong / what makes you sad will make me strong."

A hopelessly romantic optimist, Sexsmith nevertheless seems world-weary enough to sound like a realist: He's always clinging to faith — whether in love or in a benevolent God — even as he acknowledges the compromises, challenges and disappointments piling up around him. On "Never Give Up," he turns a simple sentiment into a statement of belief that sounds deeply felt and hard-won.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)